Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer in 2017. His pending retirement means President Biden will be able to name his replacement. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer Retiring
Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer in 2017. His pending retirement means President Biden will be able to name his replacement. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

Breaking down the meaning of Justice Stephen Breyer’s departure as the nation’s high court bears right. 

Within the next 24 hours, a Republican somewhere will call for President Joe Biden to wait until after the midterm elections to replace retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. 

And the president will in all likelihood treat it as nonsense. When they do make the demand — there’s no “if” — it should be dismissed out of hand. They are, quite simply, not credible.

Republicans changed the game in 2016 when they refused to hold a hearing on the late Antonin Scalia’s replacement. They changed it again in 2020 when, just weeks before the election, they took a month to fill the seat made vacant by the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

What Does This Mean? 

In the short-term, not much.

The departure of Breyer, an 83-year-old justice appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, isn’t exactly a lightning bolt. He is the oldest member of the court and one of the few remaining “liberal” justices, meaning even with Biden naming his replacement, conservatives will still hold the balance of power. 

But it does allow Biden to prevent Republicans from pressing their advantage further on the court.

More importantly, it signals a changing of the guard as the court’s conservative majority swings wide right into issues like abortion rights. 

With the GOP pushing a host of right-wing measures, including attacks on abortion rights and voting access, expect the president to name a judge with a strong record on both. Also, with pressure from progressives to name the first Black woman in the history of the court, representation will matter a great deal.